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An abandoned mine disappears, but a decade-old agreement may still stall Peoria's Landfill 3

Green For Life Environmental Inc., the Canadian waste management firm that bought Peoria Disposal Company last year, has withdrawn its request to delay construction on Peoria City/County Landfill No. 3. The new landfill will be built adjacent to the other two landfills, west of Edwards.
Joe Deacon
Landfill No. 2, west of Edwards, is filling quickly and expected to be at capacity within the next six months.

As the second landfill outside of Edwards careens toward capacity, plans to construct the future Landfill 3 remain stalled.

The Peoria City/County Landfill Committee first entered an agreement for the construction and operation of a new landfill in 2009 with the Peoria Disposal Company. In 2021, Peoria Disposal Company was acquired by GFL Environmental, which took on the contract. In the agreement, the remaining life of Landfill No. 2 was estimated at just five to eight years.

Now, 15 years later, Landfill 2 is still filling, but time is running out. Landfill committee chair Stephen Morris says the best estimate leaves just five or so months left, until this September. Though, as Morris points out, it’s difficult to put an exact date on it.

“Part of what [Landfill 2 operators Waste Management] do is look at the airspace,” said Morris. “I don’t know how they do it, but they will actually do a flyover and measure airspace using high tech, sort of computer models. And, so, when they do that, we’ll know much better how much volume remains.”

Whatever the eventual date, there’s going to need to be somewhere for the Greater Peoria Area’s trash to go when Landfill 2 is closed. Morris said the committee has considered using transfer stations, or other area landfills.

“There are a number of options available, but none of them are as palatable or affordable as what we thought was going to happen,” said Morris. “Which was Landfill 3 would be ready to receive waste at the moment that Landfill 2 was closed. And that clearly is not going to happen.”

Construction on Landfill 3 has stalled for a variety of reasons. Last April, a previously unnoticed Illinois State Geological Survey document raised questions about the presence of an abandoned mine directly below the intended site of the new landfill.

However Morris said, after an investigation by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources [IDNR], it looks like nothing may remain of Black Jewel Mine No. 2. Surveyors determined the mine was likely located in a different coal seam beneath Landfill 3 than they had previously believed.

“There were substantial borings done as part of the original siting a decade ago,” said Morris. “And now there have been additional borings done and nobody has found anything that provides or causes any concern.”

IDNR did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication. But an IDNR investigation report provided by Morris says, in part:

“As of February 29, 2024, the ISGS indicated that their records for the Black Jewel Coal Company, Black Jewel No. 2 mine (ISGS Mine Index 7518) were updated to indicate that this underground mine operated in the Herrin (No. 6) coal seam, and not the Springfield (No. 5) coal seam, as previously documented.”

Though both coal seams, Springfield and Herrin, are present below Landfill 3, it's Morris' belief that later surface mining of the Herrin seam removed any concerning voids potentially left behind. The IDNR survey and a later investigation GFL Environmental commissioned through Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. are both inconclusive on the matter.

However, there’s no dirt moving at the future site of Landfill 3 and Morris thinks contractual details may still stand in the way. The original agreement from 2009 includes discounted “gate rates” for municipal waste and landscape waste coming from the City of Peoria and Peoria County. These rates, applied by tons of waste brought into the landfill, show discounts to the city and county by almost $5 per ton — significantly lower than the “standard gate rates” outlined in the document.

“It’s [the Landfill Committee’s] position that we’re entitled to get that new rate wherever the waste goes,” said Morris. “Okay, but that’s, but that’s a contractual determination, contractual dispute, if you will. And so there’s some things that are going to have to be resolved in terms of that cost.”

Representatives of GFL Environmental did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story. But the Toronto-based waste management firm did submit and subsequently withdraw a request to delay the landfill’s construction in late 2022.

An attorney for GFL, Brian Meginnes, indicated at the time the company suggested delaying Landfill 3 because “this area really didn’t need two landfills operating at the same time,” referring to Indian Creek Landfill in Tazewell County, which GFL also operates.

Landfill Committee members say the next step in getting Landfill 3 built would require GFL to make progress with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency [IEPA].

An agency representative said in a statement to WCBU, after the search for the mine is finished: “they will need to amend their development and construction permit application to include information demonstrating that there are, in fact, no mine voids that would prevent the new landfill project from moving forward.”

Ultimately, for the citizens that use the area’s trash pickup services every single week, this means there’s a lot of uncertainty. Questions still remain about when the new landfill will be built, what solution will fill the gap in the meantime and what impact the changes will have on the cost of garbage collection.

“Will there be an increase? I think we’re already paying the high rate,” said Morris. “The question is, will we get a reduced rate? Like we negotiated and believed we contacted for? And, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m only part of one side of that.”

Updated: June 5, 2024 at 12:09 PM CDT
This story has been updated to better reflect information WCBU has acquired through access to Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. reports on the intended site of Landfill 3.

WCBU was unable to interview experts with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources or the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency before the original publication of this article.
Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.